How virtual reality is impacting the construction industry
More than just a new way of battling bad guys and piloting spaceships from the comfort of your home, virtual reality has become an indispensable tool in the world of business. Perhaps nowhere is this more notable than in the construction industry, where VR has been adopted in a number of different ways. From design and client presentations to recruiting and safety training, VR is changing the way things are done across the industry.
One of the biggest concerns facing the construction industry is that of safety. There will always be a certain element of danger involved in construction, but proper training and decision-making can considerably lower the risk.
Thomas Kramer of LJB, Inc. recently discussed his company’s collaboration with Arch Virtual and the American Society of Safety Professionals which is designed to train employees to work safely at great heights. In a webinar sponsored by construction management software company Procore, Kramer stated that there was an increase in workplace fall fatalities from 651 in 1995 to 849 in 2016. Clearly this trend needs to be reversed.
The aforementioned collaboration resulted in a VR training program in which trainees are placed in a virtual work environment where they are tasked with identifying a fall hazard, identifying a reliable anchor point, selecting an appropriate safety harness, and inspecting the harness. At the end of the simulation, the trainee is given an overall rating.
Kramer explained that the program was unveiled at a June 2018 professional development conference in San Antonio where it was a big hit. Not only can coworkers share scores and compete against one another, but the lessons are taught in a memorable and engaging fashion in a matter of minutes rather than in a lengthy lecture which will have attendees gradually losing interest.
Another danger in construction is in forklift operation. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about one in ten forklifts are involved in an accident every year, accounting for a total of 96,785 injuries — ranging from nonserious to fatal. Some of this is due to lack of training and some is due to mere carelessness.
To help decrease this astounding number, CertifyMe.net, a forklift operator training and certification provider, has similarly employed VR. By training in a virtual environment, workers can gain “hands-on” experience operating a forklift without risking injury to themselves or damage to the equipment. VR training has additional benefits in that it can educate workers in isolated areas without having to spend the time and money transporting them to a place where they have access to the equipment.
Getting in the Game
There’s no denying that the skilled labor shortage is hitting industries like construction and manufacturing hard. As a result, emphasis has been placed on attracting and recruiting qualified applicants.
Presenting at the Procore webinar, Russell Gschwind of Ironworkers International explained that younger people need to be aware of the success they can have in a career working in a skilled trade. A big part of the challenge in finding career-ready high school graduates or people interested in a pre-apprenticeship program is sparking initial interest.
To that end, Ironworkers International has partnered with K-Learning Group and created their own virtual reality training programs. Videos where potential workers experience and learn about up rigging and welding give an accurate idea of the work they will be doing and provide a safe environment for apprentices to learn and make mistakes without disastrous consequences.
The biggest hit when taking their material to high school and community college recruiting fairs has been the steel beam video. In the video, participants strap on VR goggles and walk across a two-by-six piece of wood. Virtual reality provides the sensation of being up in the air, while the piece of wood provides a tangible feeling for the feet as to where they can safely step.
These videos have been successful in attracting crowds at job fairs, hopefully leading to more people pursuing an apprenticeship, and ultimately a career, in the skilled trades.
Aside from training and recruiting, VR has proven a valuable tool in designing and pitching projects. Realizing ideas and sharing them with collaborators and clients in three dimensions is now easier than ever thanks to virtual reality.
Yulio VR is a company offering a plugin that works with 360-degree photos and CAD files to allow designers and architects to create their own VR experience from their plans. Results can be shared and viewed by people in the same room or on the other side of the planet.
The use of virtual reality in design is the most accurate way to convey the scale and scope of construction plans. It can be useful in giving accurate depictions of everything from a new building to a remodel or even minor repairs.
As VR technology continues to improve and prices drop, it’s all but guaranteed that it will become even more deeply embedded in the construction industry. Barring unforeseen changes it’s likely that in the not-too-distant future there will be VR headsets on construction sites around the world.